Finding quality literature for children can be a challenge. Yes, there are the old classic mainstays, and there’s nothing wrong with those and they can certainly be enriching for children to read. But books are an important part of building your child’s cultural literacy and kids lit (or children’s literature) today is brimming with excellent and imaginative new titles.
Cultural literacy is important for kids. It builds a common vocabulary with their peers using cultural “touchstones” which hone their abilities to communicate effectively. In other words, to understand and be understood broadly.
But how to find good kids lit? As with all genres, there’s going to be a lot that you or your kids don’t jive with for whatever reasons. Trying to find new fiction that is current and exciting, but also appropriate for your family, can be daunting and sometimes it feels much easier to simply fall back on tried and true classic titles. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, don’t get us wrong, but it can mean your kids are missing out on the richness, diversity, and cultural experience of contemporary works.
Know your terms.
Middle Grade typically refers to books intended for readers between the ages of 8-12.
YA (or Young Adult) is meant for readers between the ages of 12-18, and typically features protagonists in adolescence or early adulthood, and can sometimes include more mature subject matter. Check out this Brief History of YA YouTube video from Epic Reads for some more information and background on YA literature.
There is some crossover between these categories (sometimes you’ll see a Middle Grade novel in the YA section, as well as the other way around), but for the most part these categories can be extremely helpful to know when you’re searching for new books. You probably wouldn’t want to get a YA book for an 11-year-old, but on the flip side your 15-year-old might roll their eyes if you hand them a Middle Grade book.
Own Voices is a term that has been popularized recently. Put simply, Own Voices stories are when the author of the story belongs to the group or experience they are writing about, particularly when those groups and experiences are marginalized.
For example, a book with an Asian American main character written by an Asian American would be Own Voices, but if the story were written by someone who is not Asian American it would not be Own Voices. Although diverse books that are not Own Voices can still have value, it is good to keep in mind where the stories your family consumes are coming from and how accurate their representation is.
Know where to look.
GoodReads is a great resource for finding books and they even provide lists that will tell you, for example, what the hot new Middle Grade titles are. You can be as general or specific in your searches as you want. Keep in mind that book reviews are user generated content and unfortunately aren’t always kid-friendly.
Once you’ve found some books that look promising, you can also look them up on Common Sense Media to help gauge what kind of content will be in them. Their book section is not the most extensive but if the titles are newer and popular they will usually be included.
If you’re looking for multicultural kids lit, Scholastic has a great resource for finding diverse titles and how to spot good books for kids that avoid stereotypes. Although it’s written for teachers in a traditional classroom, this criteria can still be broadly applicable for use in your homeschool.
And lastly, finding more recent quality releases can literally be as simple as visiting your local bookstore or library. Sometimes just browsing through shelves, or asking an assistant or librarian for their recommendations, will introduce you to titles you never knew existed. And, thanks to Smart Phones, it’s pretty easy to Google a book or an author on the spot to get more information.
Resources in this post
How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books – Scholastic
A Brief History of YA – YouTube video from Epic Reads